It’s been two years since I was last within the T-Time Studio walls and after 3 months of pre-production, planning, intense build-up and heightened excitement levels, the moment has finally arrived. I’m back in Cape Town, one of my favourite cities, and have settled myself in what will be the band’s digs for the next few weeks (what I can only describe as my dream apartment – a huge thank you to our host, Caryn, for hooking us up!).
With a giant smile plastered across my face, I headed off to my co-producer, Tim Rankin’s Sea Point apartment this morning to get started on the new record. Day #1 was pretty chilled. Tim and I finalised structures, tempo and feel of the arrangements, and between various lunch, dinner and coffee breaks (thanks Amy!), we tracked the 12 guide tracks (ie. the piano and vocals which serve as a basic guide to laying the foundation of the songs) and are ready for drum and bass action tomorrow. Beyond excited!
This record, not unlike my first, is full of honesty, and covers my journey from the last notes of S T I L L to the moments of now. The songs I’ve written portray what I believe was the inevitable progression from those initial quiet reflections and hints of hope, to the driving belief I have in what I’m doing and the hope that comes with having figured myself out a little more. It’s been an incredible two years of believing and hoping, and I am proud of what I’ve achieved, and inspired by the experience. Fight A New Day is a tribute to that.
A quick airport run in the morning to collect Ray Goodfellow (the bass master) who flew in from Durban on Day #2, and we headed off to T-Time Studio in Brackenfell, which is my home for the next few weeks.
After setting up the studio for tracking, I took my place as “assistant engineer” (hehe) manning the record button while the lads nailed the bass and drums for 6 tracks (!) on their first day, including a “one take masterpiece” that totally floored me. I should mention that besides co-producing the record, Tim is also the man responsible for drums and percussion, and with him living in Cape Town and therefore not being around for the pre-production sessions I had with bass and guitar, this is the first time he’s ever played drums on these tracks. So, when I say “one take masterpiece”, what I mean is that what you hear on the record is literally his first run-through of that particular track, ever!
The rest of the tracking has run along similarly talented lines, with a couple of run-throughs to analyse feel and then a final tracked take. I knew they were good, but this is just ridiculous… With all the over-achieving going on, and another 3 tracks in the bag, we decided that half a day’s work was good enough on Day #3 and took the afternoon off, hitting Stellenbosch for lunch, with a stop in at Thelema for a little wine-tasting. When in Cape Town…
After a little healthy debate the following morning, I decided to keep one of the tracks on the record entirely acoustic (piano and vocals), so Tim and Ray very easily ticked off the last 2 remaining tracks on their To Do List and we headed off into town for mandatory celebrations of a week’s work well done.
Having mastered some incredible bass grooves, firmly cementing the foundation of the record, Ray unfortunately has to head back to Durban and won’t be sticking around to add his invaluable two cents to the rest of the tracking, but it’s been a crazy cool week of bass and boom awesomeness, and I couldn’t possibly be more stoked with how the record is taking shape. Next week, Dave McMillan heads out from Durban to weave his guitar magic, but right now, I’m off to Noordhoek for a super chilled New Years weekend of bubbles and good friends. Wishing you all the best for a radical year ahead!
Dave McMillan has delivered some of his best work on this record and definitely brought his “A” game motoring through 6 tracks on acoustic and electric guitar on Day #5, and we celebrated another incredible day’s work by chilling around the pool at the band’s digs with champagne, enjoying the evening sunshine of a crazy cool Cape Town summer.
As a heat wave descended on Day #6, we were pretty relieved to be locked away in the air-conditioned studio. Kawai delivered an RX2 Grand Piano which will feature on a few tracks on the record. They put her together from the various pieces she was transported in (which was quite fascinating to watch), tuned her to perfection, and while the boys teased me for the Cheshire cat grin on my face, Dave finished up the acoustic and electric guitar on the remaining 5 tracks with ease (mastering a unique army knife slide guitar technique which adds a rad touch to a few tracks!).
The lads have been incredible and I couldn’t possibly be more stoked. I don’t remember being this calm when we recorded the first album (also at T-Time Studio in December ‘08). I guess a certain level of calm comes with experience, knowing more about what it is I want to achieve, having a clearer vision of where I’m going and being more confident in myself as an artist and songwriter, with a clear idea of the sound and feel I want on this record. The first album kind of happened by chance, and although it wasn’t originally intended to become the product of a fulltime career, carried with it the pressure of proving something to myself first and foremost.
Having worked with Tim as a producer before, and having the same crew responsible for instrumentation, knowing without a doubt that they believe in what I’m doing and are more than capable of achieving that, I’m entirely at ease. The stakes are only slightly higher, because this time around I know I’m in this for the long haul and not just recording an album for its own sake, but I don’t feel like I need to prove anything anymore.
The primary message behind this record speaks for itself, and I think it has translated into the process of recording as well. Just believe. The rest will take care of itself.
The Kawai RX2 Grand Piano that has been teasing me with its perfection since her arrival, was entirely worth the wait. It is beautiful. It features on 3 tracks, including the acoustic track, which I tracked on Day #7. I also tracked the synth and organ on 6 tracks, adding some sparkles and shine to the production, which was loads of fun to mess around with. I’m not entirely sure whose idea it was to head out to the city bowl in the 39°c evening heat for celebratory drinks…
It’s going to be interesting to see who notices the very subtle difference between the sound of the real piano and the Kawai MP5 Stage Piano which I’ve used on the rest of the record. We tracked the rest of the piano and a few more sparkles on Day #8, and Bella totally rocked her first official duty since her arrival from Japan (yes, I’ve named my piano, don’t judge me). After playing the Kawai grand yesterday, I have to say I’m even more impressed (as if that were possible) with how realistic this digital piano is. A huge thank you to Kawai for their incredible support. It has been such an honour to play their incredible range of instruments on this record.
All that’s left is vocals and then it’s all over.
We’re after a very personal, like-I’m-in-the-room kind of sound for vocals on this record, which meant Tim had to build me a makeshift vocal booth to create a “dead space”. Thankfully I’m not claustrophobic because despite being very impressed with his decorating skills, that box was pretty tight. But it does the job superbly. After testing out a few microphones, we settled on the same mic that I used on the first album (surprise, surprise), and I was locked away in my box with many cups of coffee and chocolate (my secret weapon).
I’ve been very hard on myself with vocals so it’s been a little more time-consuming (±20 hours spread over 4 days). This is a powerful record and I’ve been determined to deliver the best vocal performance possible without overproducing or treating it with major effects to achieve a live presence (in keeping with what we achieved on the first one) to translate the songs on a more personal level. I’ve tracked a few backing vocals for the record as well, and Dave will track a few more when I get back to Durban, which we’ll send through before the record goes off for mixing (the joys of the 21st century).
It’s all over.
Tim and I met one last time at the studio this morning to listen back to all the tracks and sign off on the record. It’s been an insane ride and I couldn’t have dreamed it better. With rough copy in hand and studio time wrapped, I decided to rearrange the furniture before I left, and have to admit that the studio has never looked better.
I could see myself working in a studio… hint, hint…
Studio is honestly one of my favourite places and I’m sad to say goodbye to what has been a crazy cool three weeks. I am thrilled with what we’ve accomplished on this record and owe so much to Tim, Dave and Ray. They’ve truly outdone themselves and it is an honour to share this record with them.
Now the hard work begins. I head back to Durban next week and the record heads off for mixing and mastering, while I sort out artwork, press releases, videos and launch tours… this is gonna be fun!